For some people the workplace can be a minefield of anxiety and stress.
Workplaces challenge us daily. There are the situations where you might expect some nerves, such a presentation to the CEO, or when a major deadline is looming. Sometimes we cruise through effortlessly, but at other times even the smallest issue can invoke extreme anxiousness. Ever got caught in the negative thought spiral and had the energy drain out of you? Sleepless nights? Short fuse?
Anxiety shows itself in many ways. Symptoms can include persistent worry, poor memory, fatigue, pounding heart, a nervous stomach or feeling faint. There may be panic attacks. These symptoms can be exhausting and make completing a task – even the idea of going to work – incredibly challenging.
It’s important to remember that feeling anxious or stressed at work happens to everyone at some point. It’s normal and some stress can even be helpful. It can improve our attention and concentration, boost our motivation, and ensure we’re prepared to face difficult challenges.
Yet this mechanism can malfunction. Anxiety is designed to protect us from danger, but we can end up viewing situations as potentially threatening when they’re not.
If your anxiety is affecting your day to day life and becoming a hindrance at work – or if it becomes persistent, overwhelming or irrational – it is time to take action. Anxiety is extremely common and there are lots of strategies that can help you regain control. Here are five tips to get you started:
Looking after yourself, both at work and at home, is important to our mental health. Take a moment during the day to check in with yourself. How are you travelling? There are many things you can to that can boost your ability to cope and make a difference to how you feel. These are quite simple and need not take up a lot of time or cost a lot of money. For example,
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet and eat at regular times each day. Take your allocated lunch break and get out of the office for some fresh air.
• Stay hydrated. Dehydration can make you feel very tired.
• Get an adequate and consistent sleep each night.
• Move your body. Get up from your desk regularly, take the stairs not the lift, or go the long way to a location.
• Stay in touch with friends and family.
• Take time to get to know and chat with your colleagues. This will help you feel connected and supported by your team.
As an employee, consider where your limit is when taking on extra work, and let your manager know if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It is okay to ask for help, delegate or ‘push-back’ when you need to. Aim to start and finish work on time, try not to work back late unless you really have to.
When you arrive home symbolically switch out of ‘work-mode’. This includes changing out of your uniform, taking a shower, or going to the gym. Make an effort to stay away from work calls or checking your emails. And try evening activities that nourish and strengthen you (playing with the kids or reading a book).
Recognise and make a list of the symptoms of your anxiety and the situations that trigger your anxiety (deadlines, answering the phone, or interacting with your superiors). Recognising your symptoms and knowing your triggers will help you stay in control when they arise.
Work to replace anxious thoughts with more constructive ones. Write a list of helpful statements and keep them somewhere accessible (in your desk drawer).
Reduce anxiety and tension in your body through mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as grounding, long and deep breathing, body scans or progressive muscle relaxation. You can learn more about these techniques from self-help books, apps such as Headspace, Calm or Smiling Mind and there are plenty of credible online resources.
There is no legal obligation to disclose information about your anxiety if you do not wish to. This is your own decision. However, some people may choose to disclose because they require certain accommodations or adjustments be made to their work schedule or environment. Letting your employer or a trusted colleague know about your anxiety can be a huge relief, it can help to educate others and make it easier to access the support you need.
Check whether your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program – a free and confidential counselling service offered for employee mental health and general wellbeing. Alternatively, ask your GP for a referral to see a psychologist. Working with a psychologist can help you understand your anxiety, identify potential triggers and develop new techniques to manage them.